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DREAM OF YOUNG UNIVERSITY FAILED TO BECAME A REALITY

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If plans for the education system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had evolved as outlined in the late 1800s, Salt Lake City might have been home to the two largest higher education institutions in the state.

In fact, given the financial realities of the time, Young University may even have supplanted the U. as Salt Lake City's leading institution.As announced in a June 1891 Deseret News, the church university was to rise on the present site of West High School, land identified by President Young in his will as the desired site. Its program for students of both sexes was to be of the "highest grade possible" in commemoration of President Young's life and character.

The ambitious outline included "colleges, academies, schools, institutions, museums, galleries of art, libraries, laboratories, gymnasiums and all proper accessories," as the early Utah leader had requested before his death in 1877.

But Young University, after an auspicious first year, quickly withered on the vine, the victim of a national depression and competition among frisky young education entities in Utah Territory. In the final analysis, the church opted to shift scarce financial resources to the U., which had begun life as the University of Deseret in 1850.

Several of President Young's heirs were anxious to get on with the proposed Young University soon after his death in 1877, but the idea was immediately in trouble, bogged down in the legal morass that followed the church leader's demise.

The federal Morrill Act of 1862, which limited the church's financial holdings to $50,000, led to a jumble of confusion. Under the restriction, church leaders began to mix private and church finances to protect some of the church's interests. On President Young's death, these issues had become so muddled that it took two years of legal debate to straighten them out, according to an article in Vol. 41, Utah Historical Quarterly, by D. Michael Quinn.

Following an out-of-court settlement of the Young estate, the university concept was revived, but circumstances of the individual trustees forestalled action. Brigham's son, Willard, was the most ardent supporter of the concept and the youngest member of the board. But he left Utah temporarily to teach at West Point Military Academy, and the university plan gathered dust until he returned in summer 1883.

In September, he revived the board and it began again to formulate plans, despite a lukewarm response from then LDS Church President John Taylor, who had succeeded to the church presidency. Ultimately, he told Willard Young to go ahead with the project, but he did not offer any financial support from the church. President Taylor endorsed much more enthusiastically the Salt Lake Stake Academy, a competing institution that had been founded in 1866 and had no ties to President Young or his estate.

In 1887, Wilford Woodruff succeeded President Taylor. One of his first efforts was to resurrect President Young's plan for academies and other education institutions. During the April 5, 1888, general conference, the General Church Board of Education was organized, largely to respond to growing competition in the territory from non-LDS schools.

Salt Lake City was the logical center for the church's education system, and the notion of an LDS university in the city regained credence. But church education commissioner Karl G. Maeser also seemed to favor the evolution of Salt Lake Stake Academy into the flagship institution. Its name was changed to LDS College in 1889, and President Woodruff suggested to the Young heirs that the land specified for Young University be deeded to the church for the new college. They did not comply.

By May 1890, however, President Woodruff was suggesting an entirely new institution of higher education "where the sciences and arts, languages and technical branches can be taught by competent professors."

Willard Young, by then a chaplain in the U.S. Army, welcomed an invitation to return to Salt Lake City to reopen the quest for Young University. The first meeting of the Young University board, consisting of nine Young heirs, the entire First Presidency, seven apostles and a member of the First Council of the Seventy, was June 1, 1891.

Forging ahead despite lingering concerns about how much help the church could give the infant institution, the board hired noted architect Bruce Price of New York City to design a complex of buildings. Today, it is unclear if he completed the task.

In a significant move, church educator James E. Talmage was appointed to take "immediate steps to commence the school," the Historical Quarterly article says. He helped Willard Young convince church leaders to turn over the Deseret Museum and the properties of the Salt Lake Literary and Scientific Association to the new university.

Young University was on its way to becoming the centerpiece of the church education system, overshadowing all of the other growing institutions - including Brigham Young Academy to the south in Provo. In fact, the Provo school received less financial support from the church during this period than academies in other Utah locations.

After a squabble over the name of the new university - some favored Church University rather than Young University as the official title and the two names were used more or less alternately for some time - the promoters succeeded in establishing Young University as THE church university, with all other existing institutions relegated to subordinate roles. As president of YU, Willard Young was given authority over such items as salaries for the LDS College faculty.

Through 1892, university promoters worked feverishly to open the school for the 1893-94 year. Unfortunately, national events took control. The American Panic of 1893 severely affected the church. In his journal, Elder John Henry Smith hinted at the devastation: "Money matters are simply desperate; no person to know how to turn in order to meet their obligations."

The church retrenched by closing 20 of its schools and also determined to postpone the scheduled first sessions at Young University. Talmage, however, refused to give up. He proposed a cut-back program, taking on an enormous personal teaching load, and convinced church leaders to open the university as planned.

In September 1893, it did open in its new quarters at 233 W. 200 North. Despite the state of the economy, enrollment outstripped expectations. With only a few classes, Young University had more students than the University of Utah, which had an enrollment that year of 412.

The question of the church school's potential impact on the U. apparently had never come up, but now an alarmed U. Board of Regents was galvanized into action. The combination of a foundering national economy, an unusually niggardly appropriation from the territorial Legislature and the prospects of devastating competition for students spurred the board to action.

U. representatives met with President Woodruff, asking him to close the new church university to save the older institution. In exchange, they offered to make Talmage U. president. President Woodruff agreed to temporarily suspend plans for further development of Young University and also offered two years of financial support to the U. in the form of a $60,000 endowment for a geology professorship. Also, $15,000 worth of scientific apparatus was moved from the church campus to the U. campus.

Young University never revived. For reasons complex and rooted in the political climate as Utah prepared for statehood, the church abandoned its plans for a major university in Salt Lake City.

Chief beneficiaries of the decision were the old Salt Lake Stake Academy, which became successively Salt Lake College and then LDS Business College, and Brigham Young Academy, which became BYU. The business college inherited some of the Young University property. The Provo school over time became the focal point of the church system, although it was in danger in 1893 of being bought up by the Catholic Church because of indebtedness.

So, with the aid of history, the classic clashes between U. red and BYU blue - with the mountains between - were born.